Glenn Dickey: Zito signing handcuffs Giants

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Barry Zito followed the athlete’s creed and the Giants seriously damaged their future by signing Zito to a record contract for a pitcher, $126 million for seven years.

The last honest athlete was former 49ers safety Tim McDonald, who told his agent, Leigh Steinberg, “Show me the money.”

Since then, athletes have claimed they want to sign with a winner, but then take the highest offer.

A week before his signing, Zito said he wanted to sign with a team that would win multiple World Series. If he thinks that team is the Giants, he’s delusional. Of course, he proved that in the same interview by comparing himself to Sandy Koufax. Maybe if you add 12 mph to your fast ball, Barry.

Zito should have signed with the New York Mets, who were the best team in the National League last year, though they stumbled in the NL Championship Series. Zito would have fit well in the Mets’ rotation, and that would have given him a good shot at a ring.

But the Mets reportedly offered only five years and $75 million. Zito would have had to apply for the federal food stamp program.

Meanwhile, the Giants improved enough with the Zito signing to contend for the NL West title. Whoopee. Winning the woeful West qualifies a team only for a quick exit in the playoffs.

In the future, Zito’s signing will compromise the Giants’ ability to sign players to fill their many position holes. We know they won’t get those players out of their pitiful farm system. To get them over the hump this year, the Giants have backloaded Zito’s contract, as they’re also trying to do with Barry Bonds. But that just means more problems in future years.

Bonds’ contract has had the same kind of impact on the Giants’ financial structure, but he was the best player in the game at the time he signed his first free-agent contract and has been the biggest offensive force in the game. The Giants’ decision to build around him was a sound one, until the last couple of seasons.

Zito, though, does not bring enough to the table to justify that kind of contract. He’s a No. 3 starter on a good staff, which is what he was with the A’s when they had Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. He has had one outstanding year, 2002, when he went 23-5 and won the Cy Young Award. In the four seasons since, he is 55-46, and his winning percentage is lower than that of the A’s in that period. In the last three seasons, his ERA has been 3.83, 3.86 and 4.48.

In every game, Zito walks a fine line between command and disaster, because he has only an average fast ball. When he can keep his curve ball low in the strike zone, he can be very effective, as he was in beating the Minnesota Twins in the first game of the AL Division Series last season. When he gets his pitches up, he gets bombed, as he was by the Tigers in the first game of the AL Championship Series.

Not the pitcher you need to win the World Series, but the Giants project him as their staff leader. Good luck with that.

As for Zito … well, if you really want that World Series ring, Barry, check out eBay.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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